Did you know your neighbor might be a secret piano virtuoso? On Monday evening At Texas Public Radio’s Carlos and Malú Alvarez Theater, the talents of several San Antonians were revealed thanks to the SOLI Chamber Ensemble’s 6th annual Open Mic Night.
A co-production of TPR and SOLI, the event issues an open invitation to perform a piece of contemporary classical music composed since 1970. Anyone can apply, from professional orchestral instrumentalists and composers to hobby musicians eager for an audience.
Stephanie Key, a clarinetist and SOLI artistic director, said the purpose of Open Mic Night is multifold, in part to expose people to music that is less often heard in classical halls, and to bring musicians together in common interest.
“We want to attract people to the music,” Key said. “We want to build community, that it’s not just about us, the professionals, playing the music.”
Entrants must apply, and SOLI offers help in selecting recent compositions that keep to the under-10-minute time limit.
The youngest entrant was 11-year-old Norah Lynch, who selected Gnossienne No. 1 by late 19th-century French composer Erik Satie. Key said exceptions can be made to the 1970 cutoff date, and Satie is noted for his significant influence on modern composers.
After Lynch made her way through the lilting, hauntingly minimalist melody, she told TPR host Nathan Cone why she chose the piece.
“I love the floaty, mysterious feel of it,” she said. Cone compared it to jellyfish, and Lynch answered, “I like jellyfish.”
Cone, a musician as well as a radio host, joined the proceeding as piano accompanist to colleague Norma Martinez, host of TPR’s Morning Edition, for the 1978 Arvo Pärt composition Spiegel im Spiegel. Martinez played with the El Paso Symphony for 23 years and currently plays with Symphony Viva of San Antonio.
Sixteen-year-old Joseph Buechner is concertmaster of the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio Philharmonic and has participated in all six years of SOLI Open Mic Night. Buechner chose the challenge of dueling banjos played solo, starting with plucked and strummed banjo and finishing with elegant violin flourishes.
Professional composer Nathan Felix joined in by offering an excerpt from his opera La Malinche, recently performed at the San Antonio Museum of Art, sung with gusto and feeling by tenor Thomas Soto.
Local musician Gregory Messa and theater artist Georgette Lockwood, both in their mid-30s, chose an eccentric 2018 composition by Michael Eagle, written as a snare drum and spoken word duet.
“This is an opportunity for the public to come out in a very artistic and free way,” Messa said. “it’s just a very informal performance opportunity to be able to bring something out that you wouldn’t otherwise have a venue [for],” he said.
“It’s a bit of a radio cabaret,” Lockwood said, noting that Cone would be recording the proceedings for broadcast. “Everybody having different acts and whatever they want to bring to the table, the variety is the most exciting part.”
Key and cellist David Mollenauer, her spouse and fellow SOLI member, emphasized the neighborly vibe of the event by performing works by San Antonio composer Yvonne Freckmann written specifically for them. Key Sparks for solo clarinet played off of Key’s energetic personality, and Serene portrayed Mollenauer as a calm counterpart.
While Freckmann, a former Trinity University student of Key and Mollenauer, was away performing in Spain, her family members were in the audience.
in the true open mic spirit, toward the close of the program. Cone opened up the stage to anyone in the audience who wanted to perform. After a brief pause, one audience member raised her hand.
Fourteen-year-old Anna Szalai expertly performed Marigold, a lively 1927 ragtime-inflected piece by British composer Billy Mayerl that she’d learned of in piano camp. Szalai shyly accepted an enthusiastic round of applause.
The program closed with a piece written by pianist Barry Brake, host of TPR’s “Classical Connections,” for himself, Key and Mollenauer. After the piece, Brake enthusiastically told Szalai that he was currently working as an audio engineer for an upcoming release of Mayerl’s ragtime music, marveling at the coincidence.
Earlier, 15-year-old trumpet player and YOSA wind ensemble member Ricardo Lazaro attempted a solo version of Alexander Goedicke’s Concert Etude, a complicated composition he’d performed previously in music competitions.
After missing a few notes, Lazardo took a deep breath and finished the piece. Afterward, as Cone noted the tricky fingering and lip work, Lazaro admitted, “I butchered it. But I got through it.”
In closing, he embodied the spirit of Open Mic Night, which rewards gumption and effort as much as performance. “It’s just getting through it, no matter how you did it. But I definitely could have done better,” Lazaro said.
SOLI Open Mic Night will be broadcast Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. on TPR’s KPAC 83.3 FM station.